In recent months, a few people I know have gone through some seriously devastating events. As a result, it rather annoys me when I hear people complaining about comparatively benign troubles.
"Trauma" is a word that tends to get tossed around a lot.
It means more than freaking because your computer crashed or you ran into your ex. Rather, it's defined as an event or series of events that has a lasting psychological impact, causes personal disruption, affects basic coping skills and potentially creates serious neurosis.
It's the susceptibilities of the individual that decide what kinds of happenings will generate all this havoc, though some trauma is collective - think wars, famine, dislocation.
Treatments are varied, and there are some quite interesting new options out there.
Somatic Experiencing is based on the idea that healing in humans should mirror the fluid adaption of wild animals, as Peter Levine describes in his book Waking The Tiger: Healing Trauma.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) uses external stimuli to help clients process and transform disturbing memories. And the Hakomi Method of mindfulness-based experiential psychotherapy has a long but oddly apropos title. Do these work?
What the experts say
"Peter Levine suggests that trauma symptoms are not caused by the event itself. They arise when residual energy from the experience is not discharged from the nervous system. An individual can have an explicit memory of a given event or set of events that he or she recites in a narrative, and the body will also have a memory, the implicit memory. As long as the body memory of the event 'lives' in the body, the person won't be able to move on. Many approaches will work with the explicit story but will not affect the implicit one, and so the client will not feel relief."
DAVID DE ROSENROLL, faculty member, Foundation for Human Enrichment, Victoria, BC
"Traumatized individuals tend toward either hyper- or hypo-arousal, dissociation and ruptures in their capacity for social engagement. The Hakomi Method helps clients by restoring relational skills, using an integrated mind-body approach. Mindfulness is the key to clients' becoming more aware of internal reactions and having more capacity to be present without being hijacked by traumatic memories."
DONNA MARTIN, international Hakomi trainer and co-author with Ron Kurtz of the soon-to-be published Hakomi And The Practice Of Loving Presence, British Columbia
"For trauma, wear light-blue crystals like blue lace agate or aquamarine as a necklace to provide an embracing level of support during the recovery period. Jade or amber are soothing to the emotions and best worn as a pendant at the heart chakra. For spiritual uplift, amethyst or sugilite are beneficial to open the crown chakra for higher guidance."
KAREN RYAN, crystal healer, Toronto
"During EMDR therapy, the client focuses on the traumatic memory in multiple brief sets of 15 to 30 seconds while simultaneously focusing on a dual attention stimulus (i.e., eye movements, bilateral hand-tapping or auditory tones). Following each set of dual attention, the client reports whatever associations come to mind. This process of alternating dual attention and personal reflection is repeated many times during the session. As treatment progresses, associations become positive, distress is relieved and related beliefs become realistic and adaptive."
LOUISE MAXFIELD, psychologist, London, Ontario
"In a study by Bessel Van der Kolk of people suffering from post-traumatic stress, Prozac was associated with a 44 per cent improvement, a placebo with 40 per cent, cognitive behavioural therapy was around 50 and EMDR 78 per cent. All the people in the first three categories regressed over the year after treatment. The only people who got better were the EMDR group.'
HARVEY ARMSTRONG, associate professor of psychiatry, U of T
"The only methods of treatment endorsed by experts are exposure therapies, typically behavioural therapy or cognitive behavioural. In exposure-based therapies, people are taught to gradually approach situations, triggers, memories or images that they're currently avoiding. In the most recent review of treatments, the research was methodologically weak, compromising the ability to draw conclusions. That said, the committee did find evidence for exposure-based therapies. Evidence for other modalities, including EMDR and pharmacological treatment, was inadequate. EMDR appears effective insofar is it shares methods with exposure-based treatments."
PETER FARVOLDEN, clinic head, psychological trauma program/work, stress and health program, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto